Congestive heart failure: Causes, symptoms, and treatments

Even though it may sound like it, congestive heart failure does not necessarily mean that the heart has failed. However, heart failure is a serious condition where the heart does not pump blood around the body efficiently.

We depend on the pumping action of the heart to deliver nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to every cell in the body. When cells are not nourished adequately, it is not possible for the body to function properly.

If the heart is weakened and cannot supply the cells with sufficient blood, the patient becomes tired and breathless. Everyday activities that were once taken for granted become challenging.

Heart failure is a serious condition, and there is usually no cure. However, with the right treatment, the patient can still lead an enjoyable, meaningful, and productive life.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, approximately 5.7 million people in the United States have heart failure.

Heart failure, heart attack, and cardiac arrest

man experiencing a heart attack
Heart failure comes in many forms and has many causes.

Here, we explain some important terms:

Heart attack – this is death of heart muscle due to the blockage of a coronary artery. The heart muscle dies because it is starved of oxygen (because blood is not getting to it).

Heart failure – this means the heart muscle cannot pump blood around the body properly. It is not a heart attack.

Cardiac arrest – this means the heart stops, blood circulation stops, and there is no pulse.


Heart failure is caused by any conditions that damage the heart muscle. These include:

Coronary artery disease – the coronary arteries supply the heart muscle with blood. If these are blocked or the flow is reduced, the heart does not receive the blood supply it needs.

Heart attack – a sudden block of the coronary arteries; this causes scars in the heart’s tissues and decreases how effectively it can pump.

Cardiomyopathy – damage to the heart muscle other than by artery or blood flow problems; for instance caused by drug side effects or infections.

Conditions that overwork the heart – for instance, valve disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, kidney disease, or heart defects present from birth.

The following are risk factors for congestive heart failure; they may make it more likely:

Diabetes – especially diabetes type 2.

Obesity – people who are both obese and have diabetes type 2 have an increased risk.

Smoking – people who smoke regularly run a significantly higher risk of developing heart failure.

Anemia – a deficiency of red blood cells.

Hyperthyroidism – overactive thyroid gland.

Hypothyroidism – underactive thyroid gland.

Myocarditis – inflammation of the heart muscle, usually caused by a virus, leading to left-sided heart failure.

Heart arrhythmias – abnormal heart rhythms, they may cause the heart to beat too fast, creating more work for the heart. Eventually the heart may weaken, leading to heart failure. If heartbeat is too slow not enough blood may get out from the heart to the body, leading to heart failure.

Atrial fibrillation – an irregular, often rapid heart beat; patients with atrial fibrillation have a higher risk of hospitalization due to heart failure, a study found.

Emphysema – a chronic disease that makes it hard for the patient to breathe.

Lupus – the patient’s immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues.

Hemochromatosis – a condition where iron accumulates in the tissues.

Amyloidosis – one or more organ systems in the body accumulate deposits of abnormal proteins.

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The following are possible symptoms of heart failure:

Congested lungs – fluid builds up in the lungs and causes shortness of breath even when resting and particularly when lying down. It can also cause a hacking, dry cough.

Fluid retention – because less blood is being pumped to the kidneys, it can cause water retention. This can cause swollen ankles, legs, and abdomen. It can also cause weight gain and increased urination.

Fatigue and dizziness – because less blood is reaching the organs of the body, it can cause feelings of weakness. Because less blood is reaching the brain is can also cause dizziness and confusion.

Irregular and rapid heartbeats – to try and counteract the lack of blood being pumped with each contraction of the heart, the heart might pump more quickly.

Heart failure shares symptoms with other conditions, and if anyone has the symptoms, it does not mean they have heart failure.

However, anyone who experiences more than one of the symptoms should tell their doctor and ask for an evaluation of their heart.

People who have been diagnosed with heart failure should monitor their symptoms carefully and report any sudden changes to their doctor immediately.


There are many different types of heart failure:

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